LPGA news notes Wegmans a major
The LPGA Playoffs with its big-bang finish in an ADT Championship-style finale aren’t in the plans for a return anytime soon . . .
And the LPGA schedule could grow by an event or two despite the unfavorable economic climate . . .
Those were among news and notes garnered in GolfChannel.com’s conversation with LPGA commissioner Mike Whan during the LPGA Tour Championship’s media day Wednesday at Grand Cypress Golf Club.
Here are some highlights:
Major Championship developments: The LPGA Championship, still searching for a title sponsor and permanent home, could be nearer to finding both in the temporary home it found this year.
Wegmans served as a presenting sponsor while hosting the year’s second major championship in June at Locust Hill Country Club in Pittsford, N.Y. While it was originally intended to be a one-year deal with Wegmans returning as a regular tour stop next year, Wegmans has made a substantial offer to upgrade to major championship host and sponsor. The LPGA has been looking for a new title sponsor for its major since McDonald’s dropped out last year.
“Wegmans has offered a long-term historic approach to the LPGA Championship,” Whan said. “I told them we are probably not going to make a decision on that until this season is almost over. We’ve had a few people show significant interest. We just want to make sure it’s the right ingredients, the time is right, the course is right, that we can get it televised in a big way.
“I think the good news is Wegmans answers a lot of those questions. It’s a great offer. But whether or not we will put it there, I’m not ready to announce yet.”
The LPGA has a contract with Wegmans as a regular tour stop through 2012 with Wegmans having options for 2013 and ’14.
LPGA Playoffs not on the horizon: With ADT out after 2008 as title sponsor of the LPGA Playoff finale, a popular event that featured the richest first-place check in women’s golf ($1 million), former commissioner Carolyn Bivens floated plans to bring the newly configured format back at the start of the 2010 season.
The ADT-style jackpot format never returned and is not likely to anytime soon.
“That format could come back, but not in the ADT event, and not in the same end-of-the-year tournament spot,” Whan said.
Growing the LPGA schedule:The LPGA schedule features 24 events that count toward official money this season. Though 10 contracts came up for renewal in hard economic times this year, Whan is expecting to unveil a 2011 schedule that could be even stronger.
Of the 10 contracts that expired this year, only CVS/pharmacy failed to renew. The Jamie Farr Owens Corning Classic will take a one-year hiatus before returning in 2012 with a contract that runs through 2014.
Whan said he’s confident that work to add at least two more tournaments is coming together.
“I don’t think we will play a ton more in 2011, but we will probably play a little more,” Whan said. “We still have a lot of irons in the fire. I will tell you without any hesitation, we will not play less than 24.”
The LPGA played 34 events in 2008, but the schedule shrank to 27 events in ’09 and 24 this year due to a combination of hard economic times and tough negotiating policies by the previous tour regime.
Asked what he thought was an ideal number for the schedule, Whan said: “My mind says 30. Typically, the top players play 25, maybe 26 times a year. A few will play every event you’ve got. I think when you have 34, 35, 36 events, you start worrying about your fields. While 2010 was a terrible year for a tournament’s contract to end, a reason we did so well, that so many tournaments stayed with us, is that what we were bringing to town was pretty significant. The 30 best players in the world were all coming to tee it up.
“I think 30 to 32 tournaments is a great vision. But as I’ve said to my staff, I’m in no rush. One thing that is different about this job is that, usually, as a CEO, you are thinking about the income statement, growing the value and deciding what the exit strategy is. There is no exit strategy for the LPGA. I get to nourish this thing four, five, six years. My job is not to have a great couple of years. My job is to build this thing so it gets stronger and stronger.
“I’ve said to my staff, don’t rush events. Let’s bring in events that are thought out, so we can be in business with them as long as we’ve been in business with State Farm, Wegmans, Nabisco because that’s what the LPGA deserves, that’s the legacy we need to leave.
“I think a lot of people were expecting us to fall off the map in 2010. We certainly are not going to do that when you hear about 2011. I think it’s slow growth, not because it has to be, but because of the state of the times. Another reason is that I just don’t want to rush something and call it official and then realize it doesn’t have long-term legs.”
Whan has preached meaningful partnerships with sponsors since the day he got the job.
“A comment I made at the beginning is that I want to have more tournaments, but if we were just our own small business, didn’t do golf for a living and wanted more customers, the way we would get more customers is be really great to the ones we have,” Whan said. “It’s the companies that focus on the customers they don’t have that go out of business. I said I think we are a little too focused on the ones we don’t have. So we are going to be great to the ones we have, because if I was a big-time sponsor, and I was thinking of joining the LPGA, the first thing I would do is call Nabisco, call State Farm, call Navistar and HSBC, and I’d say, `Tell me about these guys.’ Any big time sponsor is going to do the same thing. We have to make sure when they get the call, our best fan is the one who is already with us. I think we might have gotten a little bit away from that as an organization. People want to write that as a commissioner thing, but I think it’s organizationally. Back in 2007 and ‘06, there were a lot of new customers knocking on the door. So I think the recession really helped us get back to that.”
The future of the LPGA Tour Championship: The LPGA Tour Championship, which left the Houstonian Golf & Country Club in Houston after one year, will be played Dec. 2-5 without a title sponsor again this year in its move to Grand Cypress Golf Club in Orlando. The contract is for the club to host one year, though Whan said the tour is in discussions with a potential title sponsor beginning next year and is determined to make Central Florida the permanent home to the season-ending championship.
IMG owns and runs the LPGA Tour Championship, but the contract ends after this year with the LPGA taking over the event. Though IMG is contractually obligated to fund this year’s championship, the LPGA has stepped in to help find sponsorships to help fund the purse and cut expenses.
Montana parents can't watch kids play high school golf
Well, this is a one new one.
According to a report from KTVQ in Montana, this line in the Montana State High School Association rule book all but forbids spectators from observing high school golf in that state:
“No spectators/fans are allowed on the course except for certain locations as designated by the tournament manager and club professional.”
Part of the issue, according to the report, is that most courses don't bother to designate those "certain locations" leaving parents unable to watch their kids compete.
“If you tell a parent that they can’t watch their kid play in the Thanksgiving Day football game, they would riot,” Chris Kelley, a high school golf parent, told KTVQ.
The report lists illegal outside coaching as one of the rule's chief motivations, but Montana State women's golf coach Brittany Basye doesn't quite buy that.
“I can go to a softball game and I can sit right behind the pitcher. I can make hand signals,” she is quoted in the report. “I can yell out names. I can do the same thing on a softball field that might affect that kid. Football games we can yell as loud as we want when someone is making a pass or a catch.”
The MHSA has argued that unlike other sports that are played in a confined area, the sprawling nature of a golf course would make it difficult to hire enough marshals to keep unruly spectators in check.
Meanwhile, there's a lawyer quoted in the report claiming this is some kind of civil rights issue.
Worth note, Montana is one of only two states that doesn't allow spectators on the course. The other state, Alaska, does not offer high school golf.
PGA Tour suspends Hensby for anti-doping violation
Mark Hensby has been suspended for one year by the PGA Tour for violating the Tour’s anti-doping policy by failing to provide a sample after notification.
The Tour made the announcement Monday, reporting that Hensby will be eligible to return on Oct. 26, 2018.
The statement reads:
The PGA Tour announced today that Mark Hensby has violated the Tour Anti-Doping Policy for failing to provide a drug testing sample after notification and has been suspended for a period of one year. He will be eligible to return on Oct. 26, 2018.
Hensby, 46, won the John Deere Classic in 2004. He played the Web.com Tour this past year, playing just 14 events. He finished 142nd on the money list. He once ranked among the top 30 in the Official World Golf Ranking but ranks No. 1,623 today.
The Sunshine Tour recently suspended player Etienne Bond for one year for failing a drug test. Players previously suspended by the PGA Tour for violating the anti-doping policy include Scott Stallings and Doug Barron.
The PGA Tour implemented revisions to its anti-doping program with the start of the 2017-18 season. The revisions include blood testing and the supplementation of the Tour’s prohibited list to include all of the substances and methods on the World Anti-Doping Agency prohibited list. As part of this season’s revisions, the Tour announced it would also begin reporting suspensions due to recreational drug use.
The Tour said it would not issue further comment on Hensby's suspension.
Good time to hang up on viewer call-ins
Golf announced the most massive layoff in the industry’s history on Monday morning.
Armchair referees around the world were given their pink slips.
It’s a glorious jettisoning of unsolicited help.
Goodbye and good riddance.
The USGA and R&A’s announcement of a new set of protocols Monday will end the practice of viewer call-ins and emails in the reporting of rules infractions.
“What we have heard from players and committees is ‘Let’s leave the rules and administration of the event to the players and those responsible for running the tournament,’” said Thomas Pagel, the USGA’s senior director of rules and amateur status.
The protocols, formed by a working group that included the PGA Tour, LPGA, European Tour, Ladies European Tour and the PGA of America, also establish the use of rules officials to monitor the televised broadcasts of events.
Additionally, the protocols will eliminate the two-shot penalty when a player signs an incorrect scorecard because the player was unaware of a violation.
Yes, I can hear you folks saying armchair rules officials help make sure every meaningful infraction comes to light. I hear you saying they make the game better, more honest, by helping reduce the possibility somebody violates the rules to win.
But at what cost?
The chaos and mayhem armchair referees create can ruin the spirit of fair play every bit as much as an unreported violation. The chaos and mayhem armchair rules officials create can be as much a threat to fair play as the violations themselves.
The Rules of Golf are devised to protect the integrity of the game, but perfectly good rules can be undermined by the manner and timeliness of their enforcement.
We have seen the intervention of armchair referees go beyond the ruin of fair play in how a tournament should be conducted. We have seen it threaten the credibility of the game in the eyes of fans who can’t fathom the stupidity of a sport that cannot separate common-sense enforcement from absolute devotion to the letter of the law.
In other sports, video review’s timely use helps officials get it right. In golf, video review too often makes it feel like the sport is getting it wrong, because timeliness matters in the spirit of fair play, because the retroactive nature of some punishments are as egregious as the violations themselves.
We saw that with Lexi Thompson at the ANA Inspiration this year.
Yes, she deserved a two-shot penalty for improperly marking her ball, but she didn’t deserve the two-shot penalty for signing an incorrect scorecard. She had no idea she was signing an incorrect scorecard.
We nearly saw the ruin of the U.S. Open at Oakmont last year, with Dustin Johnson’s victory clouded by the timing of a video review that left us all uncertain if the tournament was playing out under an incorrect scoreboard.
“What these protocols are put in place for, really, is to make sure there are measures to identify the facts as soon as possible, in real time, so if there is an issue to be dealt with, that it can be handled quickly and decisively,” Pagel said.
We have pounded the USGA for making the game more complicated and less enjoyable than it ought to be, for creating controversy where common sense should prevail, so let’s applaud executive director Mike Davis, as well as the R&A, for putting common sense in play.
Yes, this isn’t a perfect answer to handling rules violations.
There are trap doors in the protocols that we are bound to see the game stumble into, because the game is so complex, but this is more than a good faith effort to make the game better.
This is good governance.
And compared to the glacial pace of major rules change of the past, this is swift.
This is the USGA and R&A leading a charge.
We’re seeing that with the radical modernization of the Rules of Golf scheduled to take effect in 2019. We saw it with the release of Decision 34/3-10 three weeks after Thompson’s loss at the ANA, with the decision limiting video review to “reasonable judgment” and “naked eye” standards. We’re hearing it with Davis’ recent comments about the “horrible” impact distance is having on the game, leading us to wonder if the USGA is in some way gearing up to take on the golf ball.
Yes, the new video review protocols aren’t a panacea. Rules officials will still miss violations that should have been caught. There will be questions about level playing fields, about the fairness of stars getting more video review scrutiny than the rank and file. There will be questions about whether viewer complaints were relayed to rules officials.
Golf, they say, isn’t a game of perfect, and neither is rules enforcement, though these protocols make too much sense to be pilloried. They should be applauded. They should solve a lot more problems than they create.
Lexi 'applaud's USGA, R&A for rules change
Lexi Thompson’s pain may prove to be the rest of golf’s gain.
David Rickman, the R&A’s executive director of governance, acknowledged on Golf Channel’s "Morning Drive" Monday that the new protocols that will eliminate the use of TV viewer call-ins and emails to apply penalties was hastened by the controversy following Thompson’s four-shot penalty at the ANA Inspiration in early April. The new protocols also set up rules officials to monitor TV broadcasts beginning next year.
“Clearly, that case has been something of a focus point for us,” Rickman said.
Thompson reacted to the new protocols in an Instagram post.
“I applaud the USGA and the R&A for their willingness to revise the Rules of Golf to address certain unfortunate situations that have arisen several times in the game of golf,” Thompson wrote. “In my case, I am thankful no one else will have to deal with an outcome such as mine in the future.”
Thompson was penalized two shots for improperly returning her ball to its mark on a green during Saturday’s round after a viewer emailed LPGA officials during Sunday’s broadcast. She was penalized two more shots for signing an incorrect scorecard for her Saturday round. Thompson ultimately lost in a playoff to So Yeon Ryu.
The new protocols will also eliminate the additional two-shot penalty a player receives for failing to include a penalty when a player was unaware of the penalty.
Shortly after the ANA Inspiration, the USGA and R&A led the formation of a video review working group, which included the PGA Tour, LPGA, European Tour, Ladies European Tour and PGA of America.
Also, just three weeks after Thompson was hit with the four-shot penalty, the USGA and R&A released a new Rules of Golf decision decision (34-3/10) limiting video evidence in two ways:
1. If an infraction can’t be seen with the naked eye, there’s no penalty, even if video shows otherwise.
2. If a tournament committee determines that a player does “all that can be reasonably expected to make an accurate estimation or measurement” in determining a line or position to play from or to spot a ball, then there will be no penalty even if video replay later shows that to be wrong.
While the USGA and R&A said the new decision wasn’t based on Thompson’s ANA incident, LPGA players immediately began calling it the “Lexi Rule.”